the dues are too damn high

Jeremy comments on the proposed large increase in ASA dues set out in this month’s Footnotes issue. To be honest, I think the “Rationale” for the increase in terms of fairness and progressivity comes across as a piece of sanctimonious handwaving. To be clear, I am completely in favor of a tiered, progressive system of membership dues for the ASA. The Footnotes article convinced me that the income brackets in the current system are outdated, and that they should be changed. What it did not do, however, was offer any justification for why the ASA’s overall take from its members needs to increase substantially, as opposed to just undergoing a revenue-neutral readjustment. I am quite sure the ASA Council—maybe several Councils over the past few years—have determined the Association really does need the extra money this new system is plainly designed to generate. But there’s nothing in the Footnotes article explaining what those reasons are. It’s insulting not to even attempt to justify this to the people you’re asking to pony up. The closest we get is this:

In a wide variety of ways, ASA provides professional public goods: It organizes key journals in the discipline; gathers and disseminates data on sociologists and academic departments; provides timely information on the job market for sociologists and brings potential employers and employees together; promotes public dissemination of sociological research through the media; facilitates the building of strong networks among sociologists in the different settings in which sociologists work; organizes the annual national meeting of the profession at which new scholarship is shared; represents the discipline of sociology in the activities of many inter-disciplinary scientific and professional organizations; advocates along with those organizations for increased federal funding for social scientific research and graduate training; and has an experienced staff that responds quickly to public issues affecting the discipline, sociology departments, and individual sociologists. These are real public goods for the community of sociologists, and thus the equal burden principle has been relevant to the ASA for decades.

This is what the ASA has done for years. What’s needed is an explanation for which of these professional public goods has gotten so much more expensive that the ASA requires a large net increase in overall revenue from members, or which new ones have been added to its list of activities. Why is the extra money needed? How is it going to be spent? Perhaps it’s needed for all sorts of worthwhile projects and programs. That’s great! Tell me what they are. In the meantime, don’t bullshit me about progressivity and fairness in taxation, as if I—or the ASA membership generally—haven’t already been committed to that idea “for decades” to begin with.

Written by Kieran

March 24, 2011 at 1:36 am

Posted in academia, sociology

21 Responses

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  1. Wow. Them are some big numbers.


    Jacob T. Levy

    March 24, 2011 at 1:55 am

  2. Note that half the things on the list of public goods are actually things that generate enough revenue for ASA that it is misleading to suggest dues pay for them. ASA makes a considerable amount off the journals; my understanding is that the meetings pay for themselves; departments pay to be in the guide to departments; universities pay to have their searches listed for jobs; ASA sells information about members as mailing lists.



    March 24, 2011 at 3:50 am

  3. Thanks, Jeremy, for calling our attention to this. I agree with you and Kieran that the ASA’s approach to this is an insult to sociologists’ intelligence, and is generally consistent with the high-handed, oligarchical managerial style that has been noted in earlier discussions, especially by the Disgruntled Sociologist. If an aggregate increase in revenue (above inflation) is being called for, the justification must be provided in terms of some incrase in aggregate expense. The progressivity of the fee structure and the wonderfulness of the services provided are smokescreens; the former is only relevant if there has been, or is intended to be, some *change* in the expenses needed to provide such wonderfulness; and the latter– as has already been mentioned– is utterly irrelevant. (For sheer chutzpah, you gotta love the nonsequitur at the heart of the ‘rationale’: “Dues amounts have also not increased over this 14-year period, except to reflect inflation. However, the income structure of academic sociologists has changed significantly.”)

    Sociologists should certainly vote no unless a straight explanation is provided– one that frames any increase in aggregate dues relative to ASA’s expenses and benchmarks those expenses against ASA’s peer professional associations. And we should demand explanations from council members.

    How about an online petition that asks the simple question of what increase in expenses justifies an increase in dues, and calls on sociologists to vote no, unless an explanation is provided. While we’re at it, we can demand more transparency– as per the earlier discussions.



    March 24, 2011 at 7:52 am

  4. “Dues amounts have also not increased over this 14-year period, except to reflect inflation”

    Or to put it another way, “Dues amounts have increased almost every year to keep pace with inflation”.

    Note that half the things on the list of public goods are actually things that generate enough revenue for ASA that it is misleading to suggest dues pay for them

    An earlier, rather more angry draft of this post included a paragraph about this.



    March 24, 2011 at 10:36 am

  5. Agreed on point 1, Kieran. And heaven forfend that our dues not keep up with inflation!

    And agreed on (Jeremy’s) point 2 as well.

    Another point is whether the goods that the ASA thinks are public goods are really private goods. For instance, I’m sure the ASA thinks its amicus curiae (which I’m sure was darned expensive) counts as a public good; but insofar as it comes down on one side of a debate that has sociologists on both sides (see e.g.,, one has to question that.



    March 24, 2011 at 11:50 am

  6. What, precisely, does one get out of being an ASA member as a graduate student? Particularly in a year when they likely won’t go to the meeting (and are not on the job market)? Once one has a job, what is the point then?

    It seems like not a lot, to me. It isn’t like they certify anyone to practice Sociology or anything.



    March 24, 2011 at 12:19 pm

  7. […] announced a hefty dues increase. The Disgruntled Sociologist finds this crazy making, as do others. Kieran and Jeremy have good analyses of how outrageous this […]


  8. Does ASA membership factor (formally or informally) into the review process at ASA journals?



    March 24, 2011 at 5:13 pm

  9. You can’t fool me with your neoliberal ASA fundamentalism, Kieran. You want fee breaks for millionare sociologists while poor grad students go without Contexts.

    I’m calling my representative and telling her to vote yes… for the children.



    March 24, 2011 at 5:54 pm

  10. Josh,
    It’s worse than that, Kieran once confided in me that he wanted to starve the ASA until he could, what was his phrasing, “drown it in the bathtub”



    March 24, 2011 at 6:00 pm

  11. See here for a draft of a petition:

    Comments are welcome.



    March 24, 2011 at 7:46 pm

  12. jt: I was the managing editor of Sociological Metholody in 2000-2002. We had no idea about ASA memberships.



    March 24, 2011 at 7:49 pm

  13. […] also Kieran, Jenn, Jeremy, and most of all The Disgruntled […]


  14. So the vote is too soon to allow “the dues are too damn high” buttons at the conference?



    March 25, 2011 at 5:31 pm

  15. thx, fabio. i take this as good news. related-ish if the ASA *wanted* to increase their incentives for membership (b/c there aren’t many remaining) they could (pretty easily, i think) waive submission fees for members submitting to ASA journals. no?



    March 26, 2011 at 1:52 am

  16. […] Association proposes to hike its already high dues by quite a bit, and the organization is not bothering to explain to its members what it needs the money for. If you’re an ASA member and would would like to […]


  17. […] everyone. After paying my new ASA fees, I don’t have much left in the research fund and Indiana cut my travel budget. For real. […]


  18. […] now a petition at requesting a better explanation from ASA for its proposed dues increase, which would make the organization about the most expensive social science association to join for […]


  19. You’d expect labor costs to have risen faster than inflation (assuming staff are in the upper half of the wage distribution). On the other hand, the societies in which I’m involved (eg Aust Ag & Res Econ Society, of which I’m President) have been getting big cost reductions from technological innovation (web-based membership tied to databases that, finally, work the way they are supposed to, reductions in journal costs and so on).


    John Quiggin

    April 13, 2011 at 1:33 am

  20. According to my Footnotes, 58% of the ASA membership said the damn dues weren’t high enough. Here’s to Jimmy, Jeremy, and the other leaders of the SocBlog Spring(tm) – A bas le réalisme socialiste. Vive le surréalisme!


    Jimmy McMillan

    July 15, 2011 at 7:11 pm

  21. i’m surprised by the silence on the blogosphere in regards to the outcome. did the wal-mart fireworks scare people off from weighing in on contentious issues? personally, i’m a bit dismayed (disgruntled, even!) that 58% of my colleagues either decided that the dues-hike was something they wanted and/or took the progressivity bait.



    July 19, 2011 at 5:46 am

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